Cloudy with a chance of saving some cash!

I’m sure we’ve all experienced the massive price rises in utility bills in recent years and they’re increasing on an ongoing basis.  If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll be aware that I’ve been desperately trying to reduce my electricity usage for a long time now!  Six or seven years ago I was running eight or nine PCs / Servers 24 / 7 but by 2010 I’d dropped that number down to four and entering 2012 I was finally down to just two serving up Virtual Machines using VMWare vSphere, with various other functions and services spread out over more economical embedded devices such as Raspberry Pi or SheevaPlug.

Unfortunately though, even though I’d reduced electricity usage down to just a third of what it was in those early years, it was still costing me more!!  It was mid-2013 and reduction in usage just wasn’t keeping up with rising prices…..something further had to be done….

Being involved in various I.T. related job roles and having managed various WWW development projects over the past 15 years I hadn’t failed to notice that the cost of renting a “dedicated server” was dropping rapidly.  With big players like SoftLayer (I’ve used them from the early days of RackShack, EV1 and The Planet), 1&1 and OVH now offering decent specification machines for under £100 a month and other “Cloud” services popping up offering Virtual Private Servers (VPSs) for even less, I was beginning to wonder whether it would work out cheaper to rent something off-site and move some of my “stuff” to the Cloud!

While there might be potential cost savings, obviously there are other considerations to this as well:

1) Will my internet connection be fast and stable enough?

2) What stuff can be moved to the Cloud without impacting life if the internet is down?

3) Will any cost savings be justified?

So, starting with the internet connection, at the time I was running a 60MB/ 3MB connection from Virgin Media and an Infinity 2 80MB / 20MB connection from BT.  A little extravagant maybe, but as I was doing a lot of working from home, I had separate connections for business / personal use.  I was sure that either of these connections would be fast enough for accessing stuff from the Cloud 🙂

Next up, what could be possibly be moved to the Cloud? I came up with the following list:

1) Subversion repository?  I have a large subversion repo that I use for source / document control, currently this was running on a Linux VM on a VMWare vSPhere host.

2) Cacti install?  I use Cacti for logging all manner of things from SNMP data for all my devices / VMs (e.g. disk usage, CPU usage, etc) plus a *lot* of environmental / utility data (temperatures, humidities, electric / gas / water usage, etc) from the HA systems. Cacti runs on another Linux VM.

3) Web sites? I serve up some personal and business web sites from yet another Linux VM.

4) Download Manager?  Another Linux VM manages all my downloads and schedules them for off-peak processing to preserve bandwidth on the broadband connections.

5) CCTV DVR?  Yet another Linux VM running the excellent ZoneMinder records images from all my IP cameras onto a NAS, maybe this could be moved to the Cloud?  It’s only pushing or pulling data after all.

6) Geo-fencing?  This is served up on the same Linux VM that serves the web sites.

7) jQuery Mobile / MQTT UI?  Remote access to various aspects of the HA system is via a dynamic web site for smart-phones / tablets that updates in real time using Web Sockets.

8) xAP / xPL services?  Various xAP and xPL services were running across various VMs, could these be moved to the Cloud or consolidated somewhere else?

9) Off-site backup?  I’ve been using a combination of Dropbox and Jungle Disk for the past few years to backup important data, both of these have associated costs!

A lot of planning and consideration later and I’d worked out that I could introduce a few more Raspberry Pi or SheevaPlug embedded devices, consolidate some functions that just wouldn’t have worked in the Cloud to those devices and move the remaining functions to the Cloud.  After that I’d be able to shift around some VMs and eventually found that I’d be able to turn off one of the VMWare vSphere host machines entirely and probably reduce down some of the supporting infrastructure too (network switches, UPS, etc).

So onto the third question, would it be worth it? This was pretty much a no-brainer…..I could rent a reasonable specification dedicated server from OVH for about £40 a month and turning off the vSphere host machine alone would save at least £60 a month in electricity (it’s a quad core machine with 4 * 15,000 rpm SAS hard drives in it).  There’d be some initial outlay in additional hardware (the embedded devices) but I’d be able to offset that by selling off the retired vSphere host eventually.  Obviously there’d also be some investment in time to sort everything out, but at the end I’d also be able to reduce down to a single broadband connection too, saving another £40 a month.  On top of that, the off-site backup to Jungle Disk was costing me around £8 a month and my Dropbox account is about £70 for a year (so around £6 a month).

Well, that was approximately four months ago and although it involved a *lot* of work in the end (which will be the source of many more blog posts in the future!), I can honestly say that it was well worth it.  Overall savings electricity wise are actually around £70 a month and the reduction in broadband and off-site backup costs total around £60 a month and in cancelling the second broadband I found I could also cancel the phone line too.  The dedicated server rental from OVH works out at £40 a month, so overall I’ve saved about £90 a month.

And how’s it all working out?  Overall it’s pretty good, the internet does drop occasionally, but since there’s nothing that critical in the Cloud it all tends to recover by itself quite nicely when the connection comes back.

I did have to make some compromises, for example I had to split my Cacti installation up into something that would run locally on a Raspberry Pi for all the “local” devices and I moved to Emoncms for logging all the HA related data which is more suited to having that data “pushed” to it.  The off-site backup is also now slightly less convenient than using the previous Dropbox and Jungle Disk clients, but it’s still perfectly acceptable (local PCs now backup to a share on the NAS and then that share is backed up to the Cloud using rsync).

There’s still some stuff to finish off (isn’t there always?), for example I need to import the historical Cacti data into Emoncms somehow, but the bottom line is that you too could potentially make vast savings by carrying out a similar exercise!  I also think that I could make further savings as I probably over-sized the server I’m renting and could actually reduce that down too – OVH dedicated servers start from just £5 a month!

Thanks for reading,

Martyn Wendon

Cacti 0.8 Beginner's Guide

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